Cats often feature in the books of Haruki Murakami and, indeed, in Japanese literature and folklore in general. Of the latter, the most famous is probably the maneki neko ((招き猫)or beckoning cat, images of which can be seen throughout the country, to bring good fortune to the owners. The origins of the tale are claimed by both the inhabitants of Kyoto and Tokyo (and even the Chinese, not surprisingly), but the principle is the same: an impoverished owner of a failing store took pity on a passing cat and invited him in to share his meagre supplies of food. In gratitude the cat sat outside the store raising his paw to invite in passers-by, thus improving the fortunes of the kind-hearted shop owner.
Goutokuji Temple in Setagaya Ward, western Tokyo has its own version. At the end of the 17th century, a lord from Hikone was passing a temple when a thunderstorm was approaching. A cat emerged from the temple and raised its paw as if waving the lord inside, thus saving him from a drenching. In gratitude the lord rebuilt the temple and re-named it Goutokuji in 1697.
Nowadays this is commemorated by the display of thousands of cats beckoning the few visitors who make their way to this hidden gem off the main tourist trail.
But, in the three storey pagoda, if you look carefully, very carefully, you might just spot, and be spotted by, a cat hiding in the rafters.
Feline fans keen to improve their own luck can buy their own version made from wood, plastic or more commonly ceramics. Some even have battery or solar powered rising paws to give you a greater sense of being welcomed. And pause for thought: the right paw raised is to bring money, the left to bring in more customers. Both raised and you can’t go wrong.